ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton likes to quip that she’s had three good ideas since being elected to her position: The Grace Gathering (a time for all ELCA members to meet at the same time as the Churchwide Assembly to observe plenary sessions and participate in other activities), studying the Small Catechism together as a church, and the Rostered Ministers Gathering.
While one might argue that Bishop Eaton has had a lot of good ideas, these three have been popular and successful with ELCA members.
Two weeks ago her dream of bringing Rostered Ministers together in a sort of “Youth Gathering for Grown Ups” came to fruition as more than 900 Rostered Ministers came together from across the country in Atlanta under the theme “On the Way.”
The event opened with an evening festive Eucharist worship, with drums from the Sewe Percussion Ensemble, The Atlanta Brass Quintet and a children’s choir from Redeemer Lutheran in Atlanta.
Bishop Eaton presided and Pastor Thulie Beresford preached. She is an example of the diversity of Lutherans in our country. “I’m from South Africa. My ancestors on my father’s side were among the first converts to Lutheranism. My dad was one of the first Black South Africans to translate the Bible into our native language.”
The Gospel text for the evening, Luke 24:13-35, set the theme of “On the Way” as Pastor Beresford reflected on how the disciples encountered the risen Lord on the way to Emmaus.
She spoke of her own losses, being stabbed in the eye and losing her eyesight and the death of her father and brother. These tragedies made her question her faith in the way the disciples questioned as they walked in despair after the death of their Lord.
“God walked with me and I began to hope again. I realized being a Christian is not insurance against suffering but assurance God is with us in suffering. We can have joy even amid sorrow and tragedy because Jesus has our backs.”
Worship was an important component throughout the gathering. There was Opening Prayer every morning.
A highlight of the event was being led in Opening Prayer by the Rev. Elizabeth Platz, the first woman to be ordained in the ELCA. She received a standing ovation when she was introduced.
Following Morning Prayer each day there was a Bible Study. These were led by the Rev. Dr. Shauna Hannon from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkley, The Rev. Dr. Jay Alanis, director of the Lutheran Program of the Southwest in Austin, Texas and The Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben from Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque.
Tuesday’s keynote speaker was Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. She expressed her gratitude for the work and service of rostered ministers. “It’s a hard time to be in ministry now and you have said yes.”
“We are still figuring how God will use us to share what the world still desperately needs—the Gospel.”
Wednesday’s Keynote speaker was The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Professor at Union Theological Seminary.
He described his presentation as “The Recruitment, Transformation, and Renewal of God’s Dream Team.”
He used the example of the 1992 Olympic basketball team when the US decided it needed to do something different and recruited its best basketball players.
It wasn’t enough though just that there was a team of individual players. They had to be transformed and learn to work together.
“My job is to recruit you for God’s Dream Team so that you might experience transformation and renewal. But without transformation, those players could not have been the Dream Team.
The Spirit is transforming us to be part of God’s victory in the midst of this time of dismay and disgrace.”
Dr. Forbes’ dynamic preaching had the audience so riled up that when his time was up, they begged him to keep going.
Thursday’s Keynote was bestselling author Rachel Held Evans. She spoke about our obsession and worry about the death and decline of the church.
“If the church in America is dying, let it die. And let it be resurrected.” She declared.
“Death is something empires worry about. It is not something resurrection people worry about. We don’t win this with a death grip on the way it used to be, we win it with surrender and the rising up of something new.”
She reminded us, “You have everything you need. You have the Word, you have the sacraments, you have the call, you have the Spirit, one another.”
Afternoons were open to many choices and opportunities. There were vendors like Augsburg-Fortress to browse.
There was an interactive center that offered opportunities including arts and crafts, massages, a labyrinth, the ELCA Walk for Water, and many others.
Our Director for Evangelical Mission, Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson, teamed up with Social Media Guru, Meredith Gould and South Carolina Synod Director of Communications, Neal Fischer to offer hands-on social media help and advice.
There were many workshops on everything from worship music, to social media and preaching and social justice. Many workshops were led by churchwide staff to let rostered ministers know about the many resources available to them from the ELCA.
There were also opportunities to do service projects. Many chose the time to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights which was nearby.
Evening events included a welcome reception, Beer & Hymns SingAlong, and a celebration banquet.
The Beer & Hymns SingAlong was led by Jonathon Rundman, Rachel Kurtz, Peter Meyer, Chris Clay, AGAPE, Joe Davis, Justin Rimbo and Kelli Glow. More than $17,000 was collected for the ELCA Fund for Leaders.
Bishop Eaton preached at the closing worship with words of encouragement from the story of Jesus stilling the storm.
Her take on his rescue of Peter when he faltered in the water, is that Jesus was not shaming him for his lack of faith and failing to walk on water. “Humans are not meant to walk on water.” She said matter of factly.
“Jesus was reaching out to Peter in comfort. ‘Don’t worry’, Jesus assures Peter, ‘I got ya.’”
We don’t have to walk on water. Sometimes Rostered Ministers think we have to do it all.
“This notion that we have to be supermen and women in our ministry settings is dangerous.”
We forget to lean on Jesus. “It is when we know God has us that we can do great things.”
Several Rostered Ministers from Northeastern Iowa Synod attended and were glad they did.
“To be gathered with leaders from across the church under the theme “On Our Way Together” was a powerful reminder in these difficult days and situations that we are in this work together,” notes Pastor Chad Huebner, from First Lutheran in Decorah.
“It was a joy to be able to reconnect with friends from Seminary and previous calls, and join in fantastic worship, Bible study, powerful keynotes, affinity groups, workshops, and service opportunities.”
Pastor Beth Olson from St. Timothy in Hudson remarked, “I came away from Atlanta with a sense of joy and encouragement for ministry in these times because of the renewal God is working through us. It was so good to be together for prayer, worship, Bible study and outstanding speakers.”
Bishop Eaton promises there will be another one in three years. The plan is a three-year rotation of Youth Gathering, Churchwide Assembly, and Rostered Ministers Gathering. Rostered Ministers should plan on the next one.
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